Government urged to ‘embrace AI’ or miss historic opportunity, UK’s cybersecurity agency boosts support ahead of election: news in brief

By on 23/05/2024 | Updated on 23/05/2024
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Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

In this edition:

Government urged to ‘embrace AI or miss the most exciting time to govern’

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The UK government could miss a historic opportunity if it remains too cautious on AI, according to a paper by the Tony Blair Institute.

The report, published on 20 May – just ahead of prime minister Rishi Sunak announcing a UK general election for 4 July – concluded that “if gripped properly”, AI could herald “the most exciting and creative time to govern”.

The report said that while corporate leaders face a choice to “invest in AI capabilities or risk perishing”, the choice for governments “often feels less stark”. The authors stressed however that governments with “a bias towards caution” could put nations on “a perilous course” resulting in a “failure to modernise, reform and deliver”.

The analysis estimates that the UK government could save up to £40bn (US$31.4bn) each year using AI technology “as it exists now”, while deployment of AI could also “repair the relationship between government and citizens” by “putt[ing] public services on a new footing and unlock[ing] greater prosperity”.

“The public service [has] large backlogs and lengthy waits for services, a demoralised, unproductive workforce and a lack of long-term thinking as policymakers go from crisis to crisis,” the report states.

“Adopting AI in the public sector is a question of strategic prioritisation that supersedes everything else. The UK cannot be consumed by old debates when the real issue is AI.”

Read GGF’s latest AI Monitor: Protecting elections from deepfakes, France to use AI to help simplify public services, and more

NCSC ramps up support for those at high risk of cyber attacks ahead of election

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Political candidates, election officials and others at high risk of being targeted online in the upcoming UK general election have been given access to unparalleled new support from the UK’s cyber experts to help boost their digital security.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – which is part of GCHQ – announced a new cyber defence service intended to help prevent individuals falling foul of spear-phishing, malware attacks and other cyber threats.

The new Personal Internet Protection service provides an extra layer of security on personal devices by warning users if they try to visit a domain which the NCSC knows to be malicious and by blocking outgoing traffic to these domains. 

The opt-in service, launched before the UK’s general election was announced by prime minister Rishi Sunak, follows government announcements in recent months of attempts by the Russian Intelligence Services and China state-affiliated actors to carry out malicious activity targeting UK institutions and individuals, including parliamentarians.

Jonathon Ellison, the NCSC director for national resilience and future technology, highlighted that individuals who play important roles in our democracy “are an attractive target for cyber actors seeking to disrupt or otherwise undermine our open and free society”, adding: “That’s why the NCSC has ramped up our support for people at higher risk of being targeted online to ensure they can better protect their accounts and devices from attacks.”

Ellison urged eligible individuals to sign up for the NCSC’s services and to follow its guidance on bolstering defences.

Read GGF’s latest Digital and Data Monitor: The story of the UK Digital Academy, why good decisions follow good data, and more

Australian Public Service chiefs urged to focus on trust and autonomy in hybrid working

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Leaders in the Australian Public Service (APS) have been urged to focus on how to use hybrid working arrangements to boost trust and autonomy across the service.

In an academic article examining whether the use of return-to-office mandates can prevent proximity bias, authors Sue Williamson, Uma Jogulu, Judy Lundy and Helen Taylor set out findings from 20 focus groups and small group interviews with over 80 APS senior executives, middle managers and supervisors in 37 agencies about the benefits and challenges of hybrid working.

The article finds that hybrid working is now an embedded business as usual practice, and continues to be popular, with over half of employees reporting they worked from home or away from the office in 2023.

The analysis highlights that managers need to embrace the opportunities to change how teams work together by having open conversations about what trust and autonomy should look like.

In particular, the authors say that APS should put performance over productivity, as well as developing management approaches that adapt to the increasing autonomy of working from home.

In the research, one manager said their team had “greater ownership over the work, it’s giving them their agency back”, but the researchers also found a lack of trust still affects how managers look after a hybrid team.

Researchers also highlighted that the majority of managers say that there has not been a marked change in how and where tasks are completed in their organisation, largely due to the tools enabling virtual working. This is different from other sectors, where research shows that collaborative and team-building tasks are done in the office, and deep-thinking work is done at home. However, in the APS, tasks are done regardless of location, suggesting that the public service is flexible and has adapted to hybrid working. This also opens opportunities to experiment with different ways of working which are not being fully utilised yet.

The research recommends that public service managers should provide teams with high levels of flexibility and autonomy, and discuss openly what autonomy and trust look like in a hybrid working environment.

“Hybrid working offers possibilities to change how teams work together, how individuals maximise being in the office, or at home, how workflows are managed and how performance is measured,” a summary of the research, published on the Institute of Public Administration Australia website, concluded.

“APS agencies are reviewing lessons from the past few years and are innovating and looking to the future of work. Further experimenting with ways of working may continue to yield positive results.”

Access the authors’ new report on hybrid working in the Australian Journal of Public Administration

Read GGF’s latest Management and Workforce Monitor: Senior US official defends telework policy – as Canadian government wants officials in the office three days a week

Singapore research highlights need for clear climate communication

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Most Singaporeans are aware of the concept of net zero, but only 15% in a recent survey knew of the national 2050 target.

When provided with information about Singapore’s goal, 65% of respondents expressed support for the target and an additional 17% said they support a more ambitious timeline.  

The study, which polled over 2,000 Singapore residents, was carried out by the Lloyds Register Foundation Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk (IPUR) at the National University of Singapore, the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the Environmental Behavioural Sciences and Economics Research Unit of the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment. 

More than half of respondents said they wanted to learn more about what the government is doing to work towards net zero and how they can contribute to this.  

Dr Olivia Jensen, IPUR deputy director and report author, said: “The study demonstrated that Singaporeans are keen to get more information about how to reduce their carbon footprint.  

“Now, the research community needs to strengthen the evidence base around personal carbon emissions of Singapore residents to make sure that the guidance given to people is grounded in science. We also need to design ways of conveying climate information effectively without overwhelming people or undermining their will to act.” 

Respondents perceived public transport, reducing single-use plastics, recycling and home appliance choices to have the highest impact on carbon emissions. Reducing meat consumption, cutting air travel and increasing the air conditioning temperature were ranked lower in terms of perceived impact. However, studies show that switching to a plant-based diet and reducing or avoiding air travel are among the high-impact actions that individuals can take. 

Lim Tuang Liang, Singapore’s government chief sustainability officer, said: “Every individual plays a pivotal role in propelling Singapore towards our national net zero goal, which complements the efforts of both government and businesses. 

“As the study shows, Singaporeans are already on board and are taking many environmentally friendly actions. But there are opportunities for more of us to further reduce our carbon footprint through our lifestyle choices, in ways that are aligned with social, environmental values.”

Read GGF’s latest Sustainability Monitor: How AI could accelerate net zero, Poland boosts climate education, and more

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